Last weekend I worked as an ISO switcher for the second stage at the V Festival in Chelmsford Essex.
in the Outside Broadcast truck there is:
The director who directs the camera operators to get into positions for the Vision Mixer. If there is a drum solo coming up in the performance then the director tells the camera operators via COMS to get into position for a close up of the drummer. The director will also overide and direct the vision mixer to choose certain cameras at certain points.
See the famous Hamish Hamilton:
The vision mixer is similar to an editor who picks shots during real time. In regards to the drum solo example above, the vision mixer would choose the close up of the drummer and then would go to the wide shot, cutting to the music. They are generally viewed with awe as they have to look at up to 20 cameras on the screens in front of them, take them all in and then cut them together all live!
A vision mixer that I spoke to, Benny Trickett, said that when he vision mixes he reaches a heightened state whereby the adrenaline reaches a peak and he goes into a zone. He says its the only time in his life when he feels fully in control. After the concert he feels physically sick and needs to sit down by himself, away from the crew, for a while.
The script supervisor tells everyone whats coming up in the song. They would count down to the drum solo for example. They speak none stop into the COMS saying “Drum solo coming up… in three… two… one..” At that point the director would have got the cameras into position allowing the vision mixer to pick the best shot. And then they all move on – it happens so fast. The script supervisor also counts to beat which subliminally helps the vision mixer to cut to the beat.
The camera operators are also really impressive. They receive orders from the director down the COMS into their headphones, marshalling them into position. There is a red light on their camera which shows them when their shot is being chosen by the vision mixer so they know not to reposition themselves during that time. When their shot hasn’t been chosen they often try out really creative ways of filming which the director says yes or no to. One camera would film a nice safe shot of the drummer. Another would ‘focus pull’ from the cymbal to the drum stick. Another would film the drummers foot on the drum pedal. Another would film the drummer from behind silhouetted against a powerful blue stage light. The director would say for example “Lose the shot of the drummers foot, camera ten. Reposition yourself for a wide shot of the band” and in a split second the vision mixer would choose the best shots, cutting them together to make a cohesive narrative.
The ISO switcher, I’m afraid does not have such an important and adrenaline fuelled role. The ISO switcher, ISO stands for isolated record, has to pick the good shots that the vision mixer doesn’t choose. Say for example the singer lets out a string of expletives without warning and the show is going out live at sunday lunchtime. Then one of my shots which might be a shot of the lead guitarist or a far away wide shot of the stage will be inserted over that shot of the singer swearing to hide it. You often have fifteen minutes in a live recording from when its shot to whens its broadcast and in that time, one of my safety shots will be inserted over the offending footage. If the vision mixers hand slips on the buttons is another instance in which one of my shots will save the day.
The ISO switcher sits at the back of the outside broadcast truck. There are buttons for each camera, often labelled with numbers, and as the concert progresses I press each button for each camera. See blurry pic below:
So if the vision mixer starts with the wide shot of the stage then I would start with the hand held camera that is filming the band walking on. I have to switch off the camera and go to another if the vision mixer chooses it. The aim is for there to be an alternative shot for any mistakes. If the programme is being edited later on than there is also an alternative shot for the director to choose, if they are not happy with the shot the vision mixer chose in the heat of the moment.
This pic above is of the two monitors on my right. Here I’m recording to two separate ISO tapes. So there will be a tape of the director and the vision mixers shots which is often called the main rx or line cut tape. This is the master tape. And two other ISO tapes which contain the alternate shots. So in any point of time in the concert there will be three shots: the master and two ISOs.
Working in the OB truck is really exciting and you feel as though you are watching something amazing taking place. I spend my time marvelling at crew as they work.
Here is a shot I took before everyone started.
I cannot stress how exciting it is.
By the way, You get to see almost nothing of the festival itself as you are only allowed out of the truck for ten minute breaks between the acts. These picture below illustrate my experience of the festival.
At the festival Eminem was the most popular. His entourage cordoned off the back stage so we couldn’t use the toilets during his stint.
Example got the crowd into a frenzy and N-Dubz was the biggest draw to our stage. I’m not a fan but the kids love them. Glas Vegas where bottled off their stage on stage 3.
I hope to be called back next year.